Are We Ready?

Canada's North is opening up. What does that mean for search and rescue operations there?

Two years ago, the Arctic Council, which Canada will chair for the next two years, concluded the Agreement on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue, the first binding agreement negotiated under its auspices. Many saw it as a major step forward for the organization, but critics felt it simply reflected what had already been happening on the ground for years.

Even with the agreement in place, both Arctic officials and those on the front lines continue to ask themselves the same question:

“Are we ready?”

Ready for what? What kinds of incidents do we need to be prepared for?

Rapid climate change is challenging traditional survival skills on the land. At the same time, it is bringing an increase in visitors, tourists and adventurers alike, who want to “see it before it melts” and ships hoping to shave miles off the journey from North America to Europe. Many fear that this will bring many more dots to the map.

Below are some of the search and rescue operations executed in Northern Canada since 2010. The searches and rescues featured in this project describe a variety of scenarios, and are based on information gained from media sources and government reports. However, these events only scratch the surface of incidents Arctic residents’ respond to every year, but which never make the papers.

The search and rescues featured fall into two categories:


Community members/personnel/resources originate from within the community. The community actors involved are vastly diverse, including local businesses and those providing support for those physically in the search. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are included in this category.


Personnel and/or resources from a federally run department are used in the search and rescue. Due to the special constitutional relationship between territories and the federal government of Canada, all aeronautical or maritime search and rescues are federal jurisdiction and use nationally managed resources. Most commonly, the Canadian Coast Guard plays the predominant role in these responses.

Also in the series


Arctic Council Warms Toward Asia

James Manicom and Whitney Lackenbauer on why the decision to grant Asian states access to the Arctic Council is the right one

The Weight of History in the Arctic

Shelagh Grant on why the history of the Arctic is relevant to today’s debates over the future of Arctic sovereignty.

The Military Goes North

OpenCanada talked to a DND official about how the Canadian Forces can play an important role in the Arctic.

2013: A Decisive Year for Canada's Arctic Ambitions

Rob Huebert on why this is a make-or-break year for Canada in the Arctic.

When the Ice is Gone

Real Arctic security won't come from enforcing Canada's right to extract natural resources from the Arctic argues Wilfrid Greaves.

Why We Aren't Ready for an Active Arctic

The North is opening up to both economic development and tourism. But Canada and the U.S. lack the capacity to deal with this influx of activity argues Andreas Østhagen.

Neither Conflict nor “Use It or Lose It”

Elizabeth Riddell-Dixon challenges conceptions of the Arctic as a realm of contestation rather than cooperation.

Showing Leadership in the Arctic

Canada will have two years as chair of the Arctic Council to make its mark on Arctic governance, says Jennifer Welsh.